View Full Version : A consensus on race?

M Swanepoel
04-22-1998, 06:14 PM
Hello Everyone,

Wen-Ling Chen and J J Triano have both made the valuable point that the
association of some physical characteristic which we wish to study,
with a collection of other physical characteristics which
predominantly occur together, and which therefore lead to the
identification of what is known as a "race", is fortunate and
convenient for studies of the possible effects of that
characteristic. Of course as J J Triano points out, clinicians find
common associations of characteristics to be extremely valuable

However I think that the real problem stems from racial
categories which we may employ, and this is where Al Vangura's
question, "Are we really considering the exclusion of race as a study
variable?", becomes pertinent. Extreme caution has to be exercised
to employ categories which are meaningful, and controlled for social
and cultural differences, so that we do not falsely ascribe research
observations to physical characteristics. In other words, terms such
as "Asians" are much too general, and if we suspect (just for example)
that kneeling in prayer six times a day, or grinding corn manually, may have
played a role in determining the physical state of the knees or
spines of our subjects, then we must not falsely conclude that race is important.

The identification of "races" is problematic, and consideration of
all possible socio-economic, dietary, cultural and lifestyle differences
between two groups almost impossible. However biomechanics researchers
may do well by sticking to some standard racial categories used by
anthropological scientists and/or geneticists. I am sure that these are not "blacks",
"Caucasians" (unless, of course, we are referring to Georgians,
Armenians, Czhechnians etc), and "Asians", but more sharply defined
groups, leaning towards Dr Garvey's "purebreed" argument.
It is almost banal to add that even in using these categories, none
of us accepts that "sharp" boundaries exist.

(The problem I have with the "purebreed" argument is that the
smaller the groups identified, the more subtle are the criteria
which we would use to distinguish them from their neighbours. I find it
impossible to think of ways to distinguish the Kurds from Persians,
Persians from Uzhbeks, Uzhbeks from Kazakhs, Kazakhs from Afghans,
Afghans from Pathans, and so on. Even the so-called "isolated" group
of the Australian aborigines are difficult to separate from
Papua-New Guineans, and Papua-New Guineans from Melanesians
immediately to their East, and Melanesians from Polynesians even
further East. The idea of sharply defined "races" doesn't make sense
to me. Could a geneticist or anthropologist clarify matters?)

Mark W Swanepoel
School of Mechanical Engineering
University of the Witwatersrand

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